Updated June, 2021
The post-pandemic work world is having a fashion crisis and job candidates are left wondering what to wear to make the right impression. After a year of loungewear, expectations are fluid at best and unclear at worst. One thing is clear though, formality isn’t at the level it used to be in today’s working world. Men aren’t obligated to wear a suit and tie, for example, and women aren’t expected to wear heels and a skirt every day. As organizations try to attract and retain younger talent, “casual Fridays” are burgeoning into a more relaxed corporate environment throughout the week.
During a job interview, however, your clothes make a critical first impression with a potential employer, yes even on Zoom. You might have room for creativity after a few months on the job, but initially, it’s important to follow a few conventions.
8 Tips for Assembling the Perfect Job Interview Outfit
1. Suit Up!
Wearing a suit doesn’t have to be cumbersome or stodgy. For men, a suit jacket and pants with a dress shirt and tie will do the trick. If a black suit seems too somber, try a navy or dark gray suit. You can pair your suit with a solid-colored dress shirt in a lighter shade of your suit color or an iconic, crisp white. If you want to wear a patterned dress shirt with a suit, select one with fine lines and analogous colors so it doesn’t look busy or distracting. When choosing a tie, simplicity works best, like a classic stripe or solid color.
Before you dress for the interview whether virtual or in-person, press the suit and iron the shirt. It’s better to dress formally rather than risk looking too bold or casual for the initial meeting. It might feel odd to suit up at home for a video interview, but it never hurts to make the right impression that you’re ready to go the extra mile.
Wearing a suit can mean something entirely different for women—this is where a classic fitted blazer comes in. Move your arms when you try it on to ensure it’s comfortable and unconfining. There should be enough room in the shoulders and back so that it doesn’t look tight. The length of the blazer should end just below your hips and cover about half or almost all of your bottom.
Depending on the company and their environment, what you wear on your legs can be versatile. A skirt or trouser is viewed as more finance- and corporate-level, and a pair of high-waisted pants or skirt is the most flattering style for most body types. Dark denim is completely acceptable for most settings, as long as the wash is black or dark navy. Use the same color as your blazer and then pair the outfit with a neutral top to create the idea of a suit that isn’t too cookie-cutter or expected.
Match the Startup “Vibe”
If you’re interviewing for a startup company, you might be able to choose a slightly less formal version of these looks. Research the company and their culture to gauge what’s appropriate. A pair of chino pants or dark denim is apt for almost all startup environments for both men and women.
2. Wear Comfortable Shoes
When it comes to shoe choice, the rules are simple: don’t wear sneakers, sandals, open-toed shoes, embellished shoes, extremely high heels, or shoes that are dirty or damaged.
The good news is you’ll have many options for closed-toe shoes. For men, buckled or lace-up derbies, bluchers, loafers, or boots will work. Women can wear flats, loafers, kitten heels, booties, and more. Avoid stilettos and choose a heel that’s no higher than 2 or 21/2 inches. Make sure the shoes are comfortable, and wear them before the interview. You want to walk into the room with confidence, not hobble in with a new blister.
3. Leverage Color Theory
Colors are affiliated with different emotions, and that context can affect the interviewer’s impression of you. Use the following guidelines to inform your wardrobe decision.
The Best Colors to Wear to a Job Interview:
- Blue: Blue conveys positive energy and professionalism right off the bat. Brighter shades can be eye-catching, while darker shades like navy are ideal for a more conservative company environment.
- Black: Because black can be taken very seriously, try to save this for high-powered interviews. Black is severe, but it can also be seen as aloof, which might make it a poor choice for management roles that require customer interaction.
- Gray: This color says you’re smart, savvy, and even keeled. Dark shades like charcoal or ash are a great alternative to black, and lighter shades can be flattering with a hint of colorful undertone. Gray can tie together accessories, socks, and jewelry with a pop of color without looking too eccentric.
The Least Versatile Colors to Wear to an Interview:
- Orange: This color can be abrasive, over-confident, and a little too playful. Unless you’re interviewing at Hermès, orange is probably the worst color to wear to an interview.
- Brown: Brown comes across as old-fashioned and uninventive. While the color conveys reliability, it’s generally unremarkable.
- Red: Even if you look great in red, skip this choice when going to an interview. This color conveys hostility, defiance, and volatility—not exactly what you want to say to a potential employer.
What should you ask the hiring manager during an interview?
4. Check the Fabric Labels
When you dress for a job interview, pay attention to the materials and not just how the clothes look and feel. Cotton, linen, and rayon might not be the best choices because they wrinkle easily. On the other hand, fabrics like wool, silk, polyester, and cashmere don’t wrinkle as easily and are breathable. If you sweat while wearing wool, you don’t have to worry about it showing because it will naturally wick away moisture. Silk and cashmere look luxurious and will automatically elevate your outfit, plus they offer a flattering silhouette with the right tailoring.
Some cotton/polyester blends are suitable for dress shirts, but only if they’re labeled “wrinkle-free.”
5. Pull It All Together
Even miniscule details can speak volumes about who you are as a person. Match the color of your shoes and belt, and then coordinate your socks and tie. Use collar stays to keep your collar crisp. Tuck your shirt in to highlight your waist.
When it comes to jewelry, women should avoid wearing dangly earrings or armfuls of bracelets. Subtle and minimal are key words to remember. For virtual interviews especially where your shoulders and up take up the whole screen, large jewelry can be extremely distracting and overwhelm the person on the other side of the camera. For men, don’t wear anything more than a watch and wedding band.
If you can leave your bag in the car during the interview, you don’t need to coordinate it with your outfit. But if you’ll take a bag with you for the meeting, make sure it’s clean and polished, and carry it in your hands instead of on your shoulder. Skip your backpack, which can seem too juvenile in a business setting.
6. Try on Your Interview Outfit Ahead of Time
Wear the whole outfit together for at least an hour and go for a walk to ensure it’s comfortable. Then sit down and take note of the fit. Does everything lay properly, or do the pants gap while you’re seated? Does your outfit look wrinkled when you stand back up? Make adjustments accordingly so you don’t need to worry about it during the interview.
Give yourself at least two or three days to try everything on before the interview so you have time to get new clothes if necessary, and organize everything the night before. Steam your shirt, iron your suit, put out your socks and tie, pack your bag, and have everything ready to go. When you rush to get out the door in the morning, you’ll appreciate the extra preparation.
7. Dress With Confidence
Most importantly, you want to feel good about your interview outfit. When you’re confident, it will transcend into your energy and behavior. Whether you’re walking down the street, into a boardroom, or hop on a call, what you wear says something about who you are, and you should be proud about the accomplishments that led you here. Radiate a positive attitude, and you’ll make a profound impression with the interviewer.
Want help preparing for a job interview? Ivy Exec’s coaches can help!